Combining accounts of legendary mountain ascents with vivid descriptions of his own forays into wild, high landscapes, Robert McFarlane reveals how the mystery of the world’s highest places has came to grip the Western imagination—and perennially draws legions of adventurers up the most perilous slopes.
His story begins three centuries ago, when mountains were feared as the forbidding abodes of dragons and other mysterious beasts. In the mid-1700s the attentions of both science and poetry sparked a passion for mountains; Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Lord Byron extolled the sublime experiences to be had on high; and by 1924 the death on Mt Everest of an Englishman named George Mallory came to symbolize the heroic ideals of his day. Macfarlane also reflects on fear, risk, and the shattering beauty of ice and snow, the competition and contemplation of the climb, and the strange alternate reality of high altitude, magically enveloping us in the allure of mountains at every level.
Every year millions of people are drawn mountains: to climb, hike, photograph, admire. Yet, only three centuries ago, mountains were considered a repellent, mysterious form of landscape, to be avoided if at all possible. How is it that mountains, masses of rock and ice, have come to possess and exert such an extraordinary and sometimes fatal power of attraction over humans?
Blending cultural history, meditation and personal memoir, Robert Macfarlane seeks to answer this question in Mountains of the Mind: How Desolate and Forbidding Heights Were Transformed into Experiences of Indomitable Spirit. He explores how the science of geology transformed perceptions of wild landscape; he illuminates the enchantment of great height and the elemental beauties of snow, rock and ice. Macfarlane explains how Victorian adventurers and early geologists contributed to the dramatic revolution of perception concerning mountains. An avid and accomplished climber himself, he describes his own mountaineering experiences and recreates George Mallorys various expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s.
Macfarlane grew up steeped in the lore of mountains and mountaineering, and has climbed in many of the worlds mountain ranges. Born in 1976, he is now a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and contributes to The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Observer, among other publications.
Mountains of the Mind is at once an enthralling cultural history of the Wests fascination with mountains, an intimate account of Macfarlanes own experiences in the worlds mountain ranges, and a beautiful meditation on how memory and landscape intertwine.